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Regional narratives surrounding Worlds are lazy

Jonathan Yee 2018-10-06 03:27:49

How many times have we, in the course of reading threads on Reddit, seen comments along these lines:

‘Koreans will win Worlds again this year’

‘LMS only has Flash Wolves’


‘Chinese sandbagging’

‘Wildcard regions are wildcard for a reason’

While these statements tend to hold a grain of truth, they're often lacking in context and are mostly incomplete, and most importantly: they completely ignore the individuality of teams. At worst, they even reveal the fact that many of these comment owners have not watched recent games of the region/team they speak of! Seemingly the only region that manages to escape these simplistic narratives is Europe, for they have in Fnatic, a largely consistent Worlds representative. Since 2011, Fnatic only failed to qualify for Worlds in Season 2 and Season 6 - thereby remaining a team not only held up as a EU representative, but also one with their own narrative coming into international events.  
EU memes restricted to individual teams
The pool of EU seeds changes drastically every year but they often come out with good results; both Fnatic and Origen made it to the semi-finals in Season 5, while H2K did the same in Season 6. Misfits were a game away from emulating their EU peers, falling just short in their quarter-final series against SK Telecom T1. It might be easy for fans to assume that Europe as a whole has the ability to make runs into the bracket stages at Worlds, but such narratives are largely avoided, and we can thank the analysts over in EU for this: over the years, the likes of Deficio and an ever-changing cast of analysts have expertly provided context for individual teams in Europe, thereby avoiding the trap that fans tend to fall into. For example, we are firmly aware that Fnatic, amid their successes in both the Spring and Summer splits, are the team to watch from Europe this time, while both Team Vitality, a team that attained a decent third ranking in spring but fell far short of their goals in summer, and G2 Esports, who had to scrap through the Regional Finals just to quality, were far longer shots to go far.  G2’s relatively poor performances at past events, even as they won EULCS titles, has led to fans largely downplaying their chances at success at future events. Yet there is a certain nuance to this: with G2’s struggles during the regular season plus prior disappointments, there is apt context as to why fans do not think too highly of G2 as EU reps. Meanwhile Vitality are seen as massive underdogs, but with a playstyle that's far more suited for scrapping in a group deemed the Group of Death - on the EUphoria broadcast, their strength in the first 20 minutes of the game was discussed and VIT were seen as having a decent chance of taking a few upsets; their ordeal may not be as hopeless as their status might suggest.
Chinese sandbaggers
The same is hardly true of teams from other regions, specially Chinese ones: due to a backlash stemming from a mysterious meltdown of Chinese teams in Season 5, where only Edward Gaming made the quarter-finals and both Invictus Gaming and LGD Gaming, a team even favoured to win Worlds, bombed out of the group stage. That year, EDG took down SKT to win MSI, and for a while there was increased interest in how Chinese teams were doing. Soon, fans and analysts started talking about whether it was possible for Chinese teams to beat Korean ones at Worlds. The origin of this backlash, it would appear, came from the fact that frequent LPL watchers such as Froskurinn and Kelsey Moser had played up the chances of Chinese teams, often on the strengths of their individual players. They hyped up players like GodV, Rookie, and the botlane of imp and PYL, only for them to falter at Worlds. A few months before, on an episode of Summoning Insight, MonteCristo appeared to call out these LPL watchers on their usage of the words ‘experimenting’ and ‘sandbagging’ in relation to some LPL teams’ under-performances during the season. While the word ‘sandbagging’ is no longer thrown around like it is used to, fans have appeared wary of any hype for Chinese teams since - a phenomenon that has endured all the way to this day. There is still a general distrust of analysts like Froskurinn, which may stem from reasons that are unrelated to 2015 specifically, but comes from the perception that she tends to be heavily biased towards Chinese teams on broadcasts. It does not help that Edward Gaming, a regular Worlds participant, has consistently failed to make a mark at these international events despite winning the LPL on multiple occasions. This perception of EDG only further drives the narrative that Chinese teams are chokers at Worlds, with little regard for how other teams do - mainly because besides Royal/Royal Never Give Up, there has not been another high-performing Chinese team in the LPL’s history at Worlds.  
2018's renewed backlash
There has been backlash in the community towards the LPL yet again this year, because a similar scenario from 2015 is happening: with RNG’s win at MSI and them having swept every domestic title on offer, they now look like contenders heading into Worlds and are hailed as such by most analysts in the scene. Some fans have instead scoffed at the hype RNG receives, contending that they are still yet to prove their worth against a strong Korean team. In a thread which reached the front page of the r/lol subreddit, fans also complained about the tone of the LPL Summer final broadcast, which painted RNG as the dominant team coming into the final, and they felt it was doing a disservice to IG, who they thought were just as good, if not better than RNG based on the regular season standings; IG had gone 18-1, while RNG had a 12-7 record.  Sandbag memes aside, RNG stepped their game up for the play-offs and dispatched of TOP and Rogue Warriors with relative ease, while IG were made to work harder in a 3-2 victory over JD Gaming. RNG also had a far cleaner style than IG; the latter appeared to rely heavily on the mechanical prowess of their laners to get ahead in games, while RNG had not only proved their mettle in terms of macro and teamfighting, they had also done it in international events like MSI against LCK’s Kingzone, and the Asian Games, where four out of five RNG players beat a Korean line-up consisting of Kiin, Score, Faker, Ruler and CoreJJ. The odds were judged to be in RNG’s favour; they were simply put, a team that enjoyed much success during the year, and even if IG won, the fact that RNG had a successful year could not be denied.  The anger of the fans once again centered around the analysts who watch the LPL regularly, despite the fact that they were simply talking about the strengths of their teams.  
The LMS and its ‘fodder’ rep
As for the LMS, the narrative is perhaps less analyst-driven than it is results-driven. Notably, at Worlds 2017, all three LMS representatives failed to make it out of Groups, with Hong Kong Attitude not even making the group stage, having been eliminated in Play-Ins by 1907 Fenerbahce. The trouble with this narrative is that it completely ignores how Flash Wolves were at that point, on the verge of disbanding, and ahq were about to have key members retire. Meanwhile, HKA had a turbulent season and managed to get it together right before the regional qualifiers, but that was on the strength of individual performances and had little to do with the team in itself getting better as a whole.  Turkey's 1907 Fenerbahce subsequently outclassed HKA while playing with a heavy macro/control-oriented style, and the LMS was deemed to be a weak region outside of Flash Wolves, unable to send more than Flash Wolves as a worthy representative. The narrative was further driven by how easily the Flash Wolves dominated the LMS, almost never losing and easily taking first place season upon season. A year has passed and even though the LMS has new representatives, the narrative remains. It was not only fans who believed that the LMS had become weak; even teams were under that impression. Interviews with players and coaches from G-Rex revealed that top LPL teams had refused to scrim LMS teams other than Flash Wolves because only the latter were a top team, leading to them having to scrim with an assortment of teams which were nowhere as good. Among those teams were ones from the LoL Developmental League (LDL), LJL, VCS and Korean Challenger. If the principle holds that practicing with better teams made your team better over time, it would appear that the other LMS teams would naturally not be able to catch up with Flash Wolves, who got to scrim teams like RNG, thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophecy: because teams like G-Rex and MAD Team were not seen as good enough, they were denied scrims from top LCK and LPL teams. And yet, thanks largely to HKA, the narrative had shifted towards the LMS third seed becoming fodder for teams from Turkey and Russia to take out on their way to the group stage - this is something we will get into later. G-Rex, however, made a strong impression during the Play-Ins, going 4-0 in their group and no longer looking like a team that might lose out to a ‘wildcard’ region. We are still to witness MAD Team’s performances in the group stage, and while pre-Worlds they appeared to be the team everyone else wanted to get in their group, the performances of G-Rex will have given them pause - even though that defeats the point of this article. While it is true that MAD Team had not looked good against Flash Wolves, extrapolating that performance to meaning that they will become fodder even for teams from North America and Europe is stretching the narrative to breaking point; there is simply no evidence for this.  
Not enough to use inductive evidence in gauging teams at Worlds; analysts play a huge role in shaping narratives
The region a team hails from may have some correlation in terms of how well they might perform against other regions, but there are still substantial differences between individual teams that must be taken into consideration, regardless of previous representatives’ performances. Although each team represents their region, previous representatives are not particularly related to current ones. While we can track the Flash Wolves’ performances on a year-to-year basis, the same cannot be done for debutants like MAD Team and G-Rex, meaning we have to start from scratch; nor should the 'mysterious' LMS remain unanalysed for much longer; it does the whole region a disservice.  We can change this by having proper analysis on regional broadcasts. Yet in regions like North America, many of these same mistakes and perhaps even more egregious ones are either unseen or unpunished. Fans who may not be perceptive enough to note these mistakes may be under the mistaken assumption that their region’s teams are better than they actually are. While the analysts in NA do much to highlight the teams’ strengths and weaknesses, the fear is that these can be overshadowed by the amount of hype that is generated (admittedly, not through any fault of their own) from the stellar play-by-play cast. Similarly in the LPL, there is a focus on hyping up teams and perhaps not enough on the sort of mistakes they commit; this is not to say that they do not point out mistakes, but that the tendency is to play up the teams’ strengths instead of their possible weaknesses, leading to scenarios where numerous IG fans believed IG were the best team in the LPL. This was even a statement echoed by some of the LPL broadcasting talent in the spring split. In PapaSmithy, the LCK has one of the world’s forefront colour commentators, and there is no one who has seen as many games as he has or gives as astute analysis about LCK teams. To replicate him and Deficio in every region may be an undertaking too tall at present, but there is no doubting that strong analysts on a broadcast have the ability to not only change narratives, but also shift them in areas that end up being more nuanced and less lazy or generalizing.   
If you enjoyed this article, follow the author on Twitter at @dzhonyee.

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